Buyers guide to lamb adopters

Lambing time is fast approaching, and anything that makes life a bit easier is welcome on sheep farms. Emily Padfield looks at five different lamb adopters.

It’s usually about now the panic of lambing time descends and you start thinking about what you might need to get hold of before lambing.

With any luck, the kinder weather will continue and the weather won’t be as bad as last spring.

For any indoor lambing flock, there’s a high chance there will be a lot of triplets to deal with (never mind quads), and there are a number of ways in which this can be done.

One of the many problems facing shepherds, particularly with lowland flocks, is how to foster extra lambs or deal with mis-mothering.

Although wet adoption has by far the best success rate for fostering, it’s not always possible to be in the right place at the right time. But there are other methods of achieving success, and one of these is by using lamb adopters.

We got five models together and tested them during lambing last year. All have their strong points and each does the job intended, but it’s a case of choosing what suits your system.



Feeding and watering easily accessible and secure with ropes

Saloon doors make it easy to get ewes in and out

Solid sides make ewe concentrate on its lamb


Having too big a pen means lambs can lie too far away from the ewe

Pen alignment can mean pins can be tricky to get in, especially on uneven ground

Can be difficult to grab a lamb over the side, if you’re not very big

As well as offering complete wooden pen systems, Shearwell also makes a simple interchangeable adopter front and back, meaning you can either have adopters set up in a row or interchange the pen front as and when you have a problem.

Novel saloon-type yoke doors allow you to back the ewe in and secure her neck between the doors.

A metal catch comes down to secure the door and there are wooden twist latches to lock the bottom in place.

The back of the pen is also replaced with a side that has slots to put the bars in to stop the ewe lying on the lambs.

A wooden slatted floor is also standard for these pens. Standalone adopters come as standard 4ft x 4ft. Pens also come in three sizes – 4ft x 4ft, 5ft x 5ft and 4ft x 5ft.

Pens can be placed against a wall or back to back with another row of pens. We found them easier to set up on completely flat ground or a concreted yard.

The idea behind the lambing pen/adopter system is that the ewe doesn’t have to move pens when a lamb is being fostered on, simply remove the pen front and replace with an adopter front so the foster lambs can gather the mother’s smell in a shorter time.

Price: £145 for first pen and £129 for additional pens excl VAT



Solway Recycling


Quick and easy to put up

Very strong and durable

Large number of sheep in small area


Plastic rings can sometimes be tough to handle

Lower sides, although good for visibility, can lead to lambs jumping over

If dealing with a feisty ewe, the drop latch can be fiddly

Solway Recycling has been manufacturing recycled plastic goods for a number of years.

As well as calf hutches and pig arks, the company also produces a range of lamb adopters.

We tested the six-ewe circular model with feed access.

Made out of heavy duty but flexible plastic sheeting, this adopter is completely different to the others tested.

A circular middle section provides the main structure and sides slot into each other, while a novel plastic ring holds them in place.

The sloped sides make it easy to see both ewe and lamb, and to litter bedding.

To get the ewe in, simply open the back of the pen and guide the ewe to the headstock. The ewe’s head is kept in place by a plastic latch secured with another plastic ring.

Plastic slats can be adjusted to suit the ewe’s size to protect the lambs when the ewe is in the headstock.

We found it to be very compact and could get six ewes in an area that would hold four with a more traditional adopter design.

Having the feed access was a great benefit, as it made it very easy to feed and water. Each pen was easy to clean out, as the sides come off and open completely.

The same goes for disinfecting, with the plastic sides remaining clean. We also found this adopter much stronger than imagined, standing up well to anything the ewe or lambs could challenge it with.

Solway also offers a standalone lamb adopter front that can fit on to existing pens.

Price: £495 excl VAT



Lamb Adopter


Easy to inspect both ewes and lambs

Straightforward to put up with clear markings

Yokes very sturdy and easy to put in when holding a ewe


Buckets of water can be knocked over in the middle (easy to modify though)

Mucking out can be tricky, sometimes it’s easier to dismantle completely

Metal hooks can be fiddly to align to get doors back in

Built by Edward Thornber Joinery, the Lamb Adopter is similar in design to the well-known Bob Farmer adopter.

Available in two- or four-ewe versions, we tested the four-ewe model, which has a hexagon-type design.

Because the farm already had a wooden adopter of this type, we found it straightforward to put up, and for those unfamiliar with the design, there were clear markings to work from.

It is constructed from high-quality exterior plywood and all fittings are made from galvanized steel.

The complete unit is reasonably compact for four sheep, just make sure you have enough space to get round and put the sheep in.

A middle box compartment acts as the feeding area and headstock unit. Sides then come out from this box to form the pens.

The backs slot into these, held together with wing nuts. A rear door gives access to the ewe and wooden struts again protect lambs.

Overall, this design is good, as lambs are held in close proximity to the ewe. It’s also easy to inspect both ewes and lambs.

Feeding is done in the central box section, which was easy to administer. Once dismantled, all bits can be put in the middle box for compact storage out of season.

Price: £290 plus VAT



Lamb Adopter mobile headstock

Lamb-Adopter-HeadstockLamb Adopter also offers a nifty mobile headstock that comes in 4ft or 5ft and fits in almost any pen, either across the front of a smaller pen or across the corner of a larger pen. We found this fantastic for ewe lambs and younger mothers, as well as wet adoptions that needed a little more persuading. It has four holes to secure it in place with string and a very well-made hinged yoke system. Perfect for smaller sheep farmers and larger alike. We liked this a lot. Price: £55 plus VAT for 4ft and £65 for 5ft. 



Modular and easy to expand

Galvanised for ease of cleaning and longer life


Although headstocks were strong, sides were profiled and quite thin

Takes up more space than others

Alignment sometimes tricky as metal is unforgiving

Well-known manufacturer Bateman offers a modular lamb adopter that builds around a metal starter unit with a headstock front with bucket holders, two sheeted steel sides and one rear panel with access door.

Each is held together with strong pins. There are also bars that slot into holes to prevent the ewes moving from side to side.

Extra sides fit on to this initial unit to build a semi-circular bank. We had five bays, which did take up a bit of room, but if there were more bays then it would be a good use of space.

The headstock is easy to put the ewe into, and it’s straightforward to push the pin in to secure the ewe’s head. The rear access door can be a bit fiddly, as you have to get it exactly in line to push it home.

Feeding is very easy, due to two metal hoops for each pen that securely hold buckets, and hay/silage can easily be administered. Littering is also straightforward and it is easy to see both mother and lamb. Metal sides are easy to pressure wash and disinfect between ewes.

Price: About £195 for initial unit, £165 for additional units excl VAT



Agri-Equest Alcatraz


Self-contained unit, ideal for a variety of buildings

High sides prevent escapes and lambs kept close to the sheep

Headstock easy to secure when ewe in place


Can be difficult to coerce unruly ewes in

Not that easy to muck out

Doors quite fiddly with R-pin to slot through

The Yorkshire-built Alcatraz is a solidly built adopter that has high sides to prevent lambs getting out. We had the two-bay option that was solid and easy to move either by hand or on the forks of the tractor.

Because it’s a self-contained unit, it can be located anywhere, near lambing pens or wherever there is space. There are also modular versions available for more than two ewes.

A rear door, which can be left on hinge pins or taken off completely, allows you to channel the ewe directly into the headstock, which is made from strengthened ply. A simple but quality bolt slides over and is secured by an R pin.

Lambs are kept in close proximity to the ewe, and once again there are bars to protect the lambs should the ewe lie down. As one ewe can smell the other it can make her more protective of her new lamb, says Agri-Equest.

There is a protected feed area, which is shared with the other ewe, and is easy to access, and there are dividers that prevent buckets being knocked over.

It’s easy to monitor both ewe and lamb and all in all, this is a sturdy and robust unit that will last for many lambing seasons if looked after.

Price: £259 plus VAT



Alcatraz warming box 

Alcatraz-warmng-boxMade of the same strong ply, Agri-Equest also makes a warming box for hypothermic lambs or lambs that need extra care. With four interchangeable sections, wooden dividers mean it can accommodate both small and larger lambs. Warm air is blown via a small electric fan heater and rises through the mesh floor of the box. Lids can be left on or off depending on the requirement for heat.

We revived a few lambs using this box and it’s good as long as there is someone keeping a close eye on things, as always. The only gripe we had was the size of the mesh, as a lamb’s small hooves did get stuck.